Between 1867 and 1869, Edouard Manet completed a series of compositions depicting the execution of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico. Maximilian, a member of the Hapsburg family of Austria, had been installed in power in Mexico by Napoleon III of France in an attempt to recover unpaid debts and establish a European presence there. This endeavor failed miserably, ending with the execution of Maximilian and two of his generals by firing squad on June 19, 1867. The execution was by order of Benito Juárez, who had been displaced as president when the French took control of Mexico.
News of the execution reached Paris on July 1, and Manet, a republican ideologically opposed to Napoleon’s policies, set to work almost immediately. Informed by a steady stream of written and graphic accounts of the event, he produced three large paintings, an oil sketch, and a lithograph on the subject.
Due to the political content of these works, there was no
opportunity for Manet to display them in Paris under Napoleon
III. Only the final, largest painting was exhibited
during the artist’s lifetime, when a friend arranged
to take the work to New York and Boston in 1879. A handbill
was made to advertise that exhibition. The painting attracted
little attention, however, and this and Manet’s other
compositions on the subject remained largely unknown until
the early twentieth century.
Manet and the Execution of Maximilian unites these
five works for the first time in the United States and features
selected additional works that illuminate the fascinating
development of this series.